Learning and Development

Montessori through the early years: Part 2

  • Montessori through the early years: Part 2

The intervening months between the first and second birthday must be the most interesting and challenging time in a young child’s life. Innate curiosity drives these young people to investigate and explore every aspect of their environment and this inquisitiveness requires very special skills and attitudes from the adults caring for them. They need energy, patience and acute observation skills, with an awareness of danger, whilst enabling little explorers to take risks and feel free to ‘find out’.

All of this happens at a time when the toddler has limited communication skills and therefore personal disapproval of what is required from the child is often met with a tantrum. Yet it is at this time of life that children begin to learn about perseverance, gregariousness and attention to detail and organisation in their environment. These aspects of the child’s development indicate that the best place for the toddler of this age would be in the home and within the family, being supported by wise, loving adults who understand the nature of the child and who will facilitate relationships between siblings.

Montessori indicates in The Secret of Childhood that it is during this period that the child’s sensitive periods for movement, order, small detail and language unfold, and that it is the adults’ duty to support them. To explain her view in practical terms, this means that children of this age need to:

  • be active – they need to move, touch and explore using their whole bodies, whilst their movements are growing in control and being refined;
  • be exposed to interesting objects and people in their environment which stimulate their senses and draw them to explore and investigate;
  • have opportunities for their exploration to be accompanied by appropriate language and communication guided by attentive and well-spoken adults and peers;
  • be supported by loving and patient adults who will safeguard their wellbeing and encourage a sense of belonging.

When reflecting on these principles, which were formulated at the beginning of the 20th century, we can see how well they link with the prime areas of learning and development identified in the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (DfE 2012) and are underpinned by the principles of a unique child, positive relationships and enabling environments.

In practice

Translated into early years practice and daycare environments, both inside and outside, Montessori’s recommendations will mean providing children with the following:

  • Endless opportunities to walk, run, climb, push, pull and carry. Montessori called children of this age ‘little porters’. At this stage, toddlers love filling containers and carrying them – Goldschmied developed the idea of Heuristic bags, which toddlers can carry and pull from one place to another, emptying and filling them, organising their contents and starting all over again.
  • Time to experience and explore materials and textures. This would ideally begin during the first year of life, when children start exploring objects in treasure baskets. Using their hands in a little more coordinated manner in the second year of life, children can organise and classify these objects; they can also be used for role-play as toddlers begin to learn about their use and purpose.
  • Adults who will name and describe the objects being explored and provide verbal references to activities. They also need to provide opportunities to extend these experiences through books, songs, games and outings.
  • Adults who are considerate and respectful of their efforts, who encourage and nurture their interests, who make sure they are safe without limiting their experiences and undermining their efforts.
  • Adults who create a secure base in an atmosphere of love and trust.

Children at this age need a lot of space to move, and opportunities for endless repetition such as climbing up and down stairs, or do things whilst standing up rather than sitting down. They should also have time to engage with activities such as feeding themselves or attempting to dress themselves, trying to brush their hair or wash their hands or helping with housework.

These early efforts will not be efficient or tidy but they will nurture children’s sense of self and demonstrate how important it is to imitate what they see others doing. They will give them confidence and independence, which make significant contributions to their gradually emerging autonomy.